Gang of Four

Paralysed

Song Review by

Gang of Four’s most genuinely chilling song was this one, which led off the program on the band’s second full-length album. Opening with a halting rimshot drum pattern that gradually fills out to become a sort of inside-out, epileptic version of the classic reggae “one drop” beat, the song then adds bass and sharp-edged guitar to create a funky but haunting and melancholy chord progression that staggers along for a while before dissolving back into the original rimshot rhythm, then starting all over again -- only this time with singer Jon King calmly describing the protagonist’s situation: “Blinkered/Paralysed/Flat on my back.” What separates this song from so much of the band’s work up until this point is the sympathy it expresses for its subject. This guy is not presented as a willing cog in the capitalist machine, but a victim of the dreams he was fooled into entertaining: “My ambitions come to nothing/What I wanted now seems just a waste of time/Can‘t make out now what‘s gone wrong/I was good at what I did.” If these lyrics sound like translations of officially sanctioned Cultural Revolution-era poetry, well, look at the band‘s name. (Nor can King resist flexing the dialectic, even here; in one of this song‘s most jarring lines, the character mutters, “History’s the reason I’m washed up.”) But with ”Paralysed”, Gang of Four finally succeeds at breaking out, just a little bit, from the claustrophobically theoretical bent of all its previous work, and in so doing makes one of the most powerful statements of its career. Irony, unfortunately, was the inevitable next step (cf. Songs of the Free).

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Solid Gold 1981 Rhino / Warner Bros.
A Brief History of the Twentieth Century 1990 Warner Bros. 3:22
Solid Gold/Another Day, Another Dollar 1996 EMI Music Distribution 0:00
A 100 Flowers Bloom 1998 Rhino 5:30
Hard/Solid Gold 2003 Wounded Bird 3:23